Celebrating the Holidays with Someone Who Has Alzheimer’s

The holiday season can be difficult even in the best of times. For people who have Alzheimer’s, and for their caregivers, it can be even more trying.

There’s a lot of hustle and bustle during the Kansas City holiday season, and all the additional activity can disrupt routine and further agitate someone who has Alzheimer’s disease or other form of dementia.

The holidays can also be rough on caregivers. They bring on feelings of nostalgia, which can sometimes lead to loneliness or depression.

But a little advance planning can help you and your loved one with Alzheimer’s enjoy the holiday season together. Here are some tips:

Keep gatherings small. Consider whether or not the entire extended family really needs to be included in all gatherings. If it’s important to you to have a large crowd, try to break the rooms up into smaller groups so the commotion won’t be so overwhelming.

Designate a quiet room. Keep one space available where the person who has Alzheimer’s can rest quietly if he or she becomes agitated. If you need to use the room, try turning on some soothing music.

Update guests in advance about the person’s current condition. Letting guests know what to expect can help prevent awkward situations. You might also consider sharing some tips for communicating with someone who has Alzheimer’s and letting guests know what not to say.

Allow the person who has Alzheimer’s to help with preparations, if appropriate. My mom, who had Alzheimer’s, decided to chip in and help prepare Thanksgiving dinner one year. She thought she was on vacation in another city and was wondering why we had to cook our own meals, but it was nice having her help with dinner.

Enlist help. Ask friends or family members to help with preparations for holiday gatherings, or to host (as long as the person who has Alzheimer’s will still be in familiar surroundings). Ideally, you’ll want to stay in Kansas City (or Independence, or Overland Park, or whatever Kansas City area city is familiar to the person who has Alzheimer’s).

Maintain traditions. People who have Alzheimer’s disease may have memories of past holidays and take comfort in familiar traditions. He or she may want to help you trim the tree or bake and decorate the cookies. This will also help you to prepare the person for the upcoming celebration. We always got together on Christmas Eve and I made candy while my sisters stuffed the stockings. Mom seemed to enjoy sitting in the kitchen with us, and happily ate the buckeye I handed to her. And we enjoyed sharing the afternoon with her.

Give appropriate gifts. The Alzheimer’s Association recommends that people with early-stage Alzheimer’s be given gifts to enhance independence and activity, such as event tickets or photo albums. For people with middle-stage Alzheimer’s, things with a focus on the familiar are more appropriate, such as picture books, taped religious services, or music. Those with late-stage Alzheimer’s might enjoy things like memory books, warm clothing, stuffed animals, or body lotions.